For most of us, Veterans Day has always been a time set aside to honor all who served their country, no matter when that may have been. The holiday’s early history, however, was much more specific.
It began in 1919, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – the exact one-year anniversary of the end of World War I. President Woodrow Wilson called it Armistice Day, a term some still use today, and commemorating that conflict remained the day’s focus for more than 30 years.
As millions of veterans from World War II and Korea began returning home, though, it became increasingly clear that the holiday’s scope should be broadened. That took place in 1954, when Veterans Day as we now know it became official.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates there are 21.5 million veterans, which is about seven percent of the nation’s population. The Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs puts Kentucky’s total at 335,000, including 25,000 who fought in World War II.
Earlier this summer, that department recognized our very first veterans: the 71 soldiers who were given land here in Kentucky as payment for their service in the Revolutionary War. A memorial dedicated to them was unveiled at the state-run veterans cemetery in Hopkinsville, one of four the General Assembly has authorized to complement our national cemeteries.
Over the years, the General Assembly has worked to make sure our veterans are given the respect they deserve. In addition to the cemeteries, there are three nursing homes dedicated to their care, for example, and we called for Veterans Day to be a state holiday.
Other laws made it easier for veterans to become teachers and to qualify for a job with state government. We also awarded high school diplomas to veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam who were not able to graduate because of their service.
This year, the General Assembly laid the groundwork for building a memorial to honor the more than 110 Kentuckians who have died while fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan, from the first Gulf War in the 1990s to now.
We also made it possible to designate a veteran’s status on his or her driver’s license, which will make it easier to qualify for discounts targeted at them. Earlier this year, meanwhile, the state began issuing the “I Support Veterans” license plate, which the legislature authorized in 2011 for those Kentuckians who may not have served but want to show their support.
On Sunday, when Veterans Day would normally fall, and on Monday, when the holiday is being officially observed, there will be thousands of gatherings across the country to give our veterans the recognition they deserve.
We will recall that, when these brave men and women were called upon, they stepped forward and made a difference. They put this country’s needs ahead of their own, and that will always be remembered and revered.
If you are able, I encourage you to attend a Veterans Day event in our community. If you cannot, please take a moment to recall the sacrifices they made on our behalf. The simple truth is that our way of life would not be possible without them. They were and they are the foundation on which everything else rests.